“Candidates for the impending Presidential Election can campaign by way of television broadcasts, rallies, banners and posters, and for the first time, the Internet and new media” (Presidential Election Will Include TV, Online Campaigning, Mr. Teo Xuanwei and Mr. Tan Weizhen).
The excitement over a possible Presidential Election is palpable, and it is not difficult to understand why; after all, it has been almost three decades since the last contested Presidential Election in 1993, and the general populace has been considerably energised following the conclusion of the General Elections in May. The prospect of an electoral contest has already significantly galvanised the public – in print media and on online platforms – to continue articulating their views on assorted socio-economic and political issues, as well as to express opinions on the ideal Singapore President. Naturally, the potential usage of web-based channels as mediums – as stated in the news article “Presidential Election Will Include TV, Online Campaigning” (July 9, 2011) by Mr. Teo Xuanwei and Mr. Tan Weizhen – will definitely heighten the levels of interactive campaigning engagement and communication.
However, since television has been widely-promoted as the primary means for election candidates to pitch their cases and prove their eligibility convincingly, it would make perfect sense for the broadcasts to be made more constructive and distinctive for healthy discourse to proliferate off-air. The current suggestions issued by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) – ranging from static statement-speeches to the presentation of individual profiles – are unfortunately pedantic and limited, and would do comparatively little to complement on-the-ground debates or dialogues.
The contention that a Presidential Election will differ fundamentally from a General Election should not be used as a convenient excuse to compromise the quality and quantity of televised sessions between the candidates. First, the number of joint interviews should be increased, so as to offer the electorate more opportunities to evaluate the respective hopeful’s abilities to perform under pressure and their suitability to undertaken the varying roles and responsibilities in the future. Given the President’s important role as Singapore’s top diplomat, increased television appearances or public speeches will help voters determine his oratorical capabilities, as well as his readiness to interact – cordially and intelligently – under changing circumstances.
Second, instead of adhering to the traditional concept of having moderators pose the questions, the broadcasters can explore the possibility of adopting a “town-hall”-styled session, in which the audience would be spontaneously airing their perspectives and queries. This would be a serious test of the candidate’s involvement with communities and constituents, and whether he is capable of representing his people’s interests fairly across-the-board. Finally, the different sessions can be dedicated to the exploration of various issues of importance to the contested office, or to the people of Singapore.
It would be a pity if the current active atmosphere is not speedily capitalised upon to get more Singaporeans involved and interested in this election process. These baby steps of improving the specific, planned television programmes can go a long way in reducing the purported apathy and lethargy amongst the population as a whole.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.